by a special correspondent in Oxford
IN THE Anglican university church at Oxford, where once Cardinal Newman was vicar, the present incumbent, the Rev Peter Cornwell, announced to his unsuspecting congregation of 50 on Sunday that he was resigning in order "to seek admission to the Roman Catholic Church".
Dark locks falling across his face, the 51 year-old-vicar rose to the ornate pulpit at the end of the weekly Parish Communion Service to make his announcement. He denied that it was a "sudden decision", or a "bolt for safety and peace", but rather "a facing up to a niggle which has lasted for 14 years". The reasons for his decision were "inevitably complex", Rev Cornwell, vicar at St Mary's for nine years, said.
However, "at the heart of it, lies a growing conviction that the Christian enterprise is not a book or a club for religious doit-yourself enthusiasts, but a movement, a stream of life passing through different ages and cultures".
Standing high above his congregation in the pulpit of the fourteenth century church from where Cranmer was lead to his execution, Rev Cornwall spoke of his conviction that "in midstream are those Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome. That stream has encountered logjams of rubbish, the product of human sin and inertia. So I can understand frustrated reformers who have felt compelled to divert from the main stream. Yet I have come to see that such separation is ultimately destructive and diminishing. Christian creativity lies in unity".
Rev Cornwell, who had earlier that same morning announced his decision at St Cross College, spoke of his affection for "the gentle generosity and scholarly freedom of the Church of England".
He stressed the need for a "continuing ministry of affirmation. Human words are fragile and incomplete but I have come to see that the Church must be able to nail its colours to the mast, articulate the gospel in the confidence that these earthen vessels can he carriers of the very Word of God".
The echoes of Cardinal Newman were not lost on Rev Cornwell. He reiterated the sentiment expressed by his predecessor when he twice said "if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, 1 shall drink — to the Pope, if you please — still to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards".